Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Week One (Primera Semana): Maintaining Sonrisas

Time February 8th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Cuba | No Comments by

My Cuban host father picked me up in a black Led Zeplin t-shirt and what appeared to be a pair of new, dark-brown Timberland’s. His wife, my new host mom, emerged from behind him, a giant, welcoming smile — “sonrisa” (I love this word because it sounds like they refer to smiles as sunrises) — in tow. I ran to them and awkwardly planted the traditional Cuban-one-kiss-greeting on their cheeks as we embraced. This is mi familia for the next four months, along with their twenty-five year old daughter, Nelli, and two adorable dogs: Sombra (Shadow) and some other name I have yet to make out (it starts with a “C” I think, but only those with an ear for the Cuban accent can confirm, which is not me — at least, not yet).

I live in the most amazing old casa. The ceilings are so high I get dizzy looking at them, the long halls are stacked with painting after painting (in which I find a new detail each time I pass), and the sound of birds chirping on the red-budded tree outside the stain glass window in our room greets my roommate and I each morning. I am immediately filled with questions about how a family living off of the equivalent of twenty dollars a month can afford such a beautiful home, but maybe it is government owned or maybe they are able to afford it because they are paid so much to host us (and in the past, tourists). And what are the homes of other Cubans like? I want to ask about my host dad’s job with the radio station — whether he can broadcast whatever he wants or only what the government tells him — and I want to ask my host mom about being a woman in Cuba and what she has done with the prestigious, free education she has benefitted from. I want to know the word for every foreign object and type of food, the instructions on how to unlock the front door (I’ve been fumbling with that), and the biographies of every human who seems to come and go daily from this big ol’ house. Most of these are questions that I expect to either find out the answer to myself in the coming days, or questions that I feel can only be asked after a close, trusting relationship has been formed. My host padre has already said that he is here to answer any and all of our questions — just not to comment on politics. We’ll see. Read More »

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Chilean Food vs. Food in Chile

Time June 6th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, Chile, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Food: It’s the reason we wake up every morning.

In lieu of exhausting my thesaurus in search of sixteen synonyms for “yummy,” I’ll take a more sociological approach to analyzing the Chilean foodscape. Fair warning: you’ll see terms like “culinary imperialism” more often than nonsense phrases like “tantalizing garnish” or “a filling salad.”

Let’s start with a Chilean anthropologist’s definition of food:

Los alimentos son algo más que nutrientes, son signos mediante los cuales las distintas comunidades comunican sus sistemas de prestigio y poder, sus creencias, así como el sustrato valórico que legitima las jerarquías y estatus de las personas y de las cosas. — Prof. Sonia Montecino Aguirre, “Conjunciones y disyunciones del gusto en el sur de Chile

In short, Montecino says that food is more than nutrition. It’s an expression of a community’s beliefs as well as a system of prestige that legitimizes the status of people within that community’s hierarchy. So what does the food here say about Chilean society?

Doña Maria

“Preparing an authentic Mapuche meal.” Photo: Daniel Bergerson, 2015.

Well, there is a difference between Chilean food and food in Chile. The first is the canonized cuisine of a colonial society blending indigenous (mostly Mapuche) and European (mostly Spanish) traditions, while the second is the modern-day menu that one can actually find on supermarket shelves and in the streets of Santiago.

Most travel writing describes Chilean food rather than food in Chile, so I’ll start with the former and leave the culinary imperialism for dessert.

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Three days without Internet

Time September 9th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This weekend, I spent 85 hours without access to the Internet, media, news, the outside world or electronic stimulation.

No phone. No Internet. No Kindle. No laptop. No news. No Facebook. No Twitter. No television. No iPod. No Skype. No email.

And boy was it a great feeling.

To be fair, I made a few exceptions:

  • I watched the (painfully horrendous) U.S. vs. Costa Rica World Cup qualifier on TV at a bar.
  • I used my digital camera to take some awesome pictures of the frogs, butterflies, beetles, snakes, spiders, and more (all to come on this blog as soon as my ecology-studying friend can help me classify them all).
  • I checked my local phone, which has no Internet capability, only to find there was not a bar of signal to be found, as I tried to get in contact with group mates on a class project due soon after the trip. I also used that phone as an alarm clock.
  • I heard snippets of music from friends’ iPods as we all hung out in the cabin.

I’m confident none of these detracted from my ability to enjoy my weekend, nor did it distract from everything that was happening all around me.

Before I left, I wrote on my blog why I was looking forward to the isolation:

I’m always connected. To my phone. To email. To Facebook. To Twitter. To digital conversations far and wide, public and private (who am I kidding, it’s all public).

This weekend, that changes.

It’s gotten to the point that I can’t go an hour and a half without itching to turn my phone, tap in the code and scroll through every information feed I can get my hands on. In the States, where Internet is ubiquitous, my phone battery is dead by 2:30 p.m. Here in Costa Rica, Wi-Fi is still ubiquitous enough that I’m connected most of the day.

As someone who lives online, I need to learn how to disconnect, for my personal sanity and for the sake of truly enjoying life without pixels.

Really, the timing of this retreat from technology is perfect:

  • A trip to a country without my data plan has been a struggle in and of itself. I’m constantly looking for Wi-Fi signal and occasionally missing out on the country I should be exploring. I haven’t had the opportunity to fully unplug. This will hopefully be the opportunity I need to, so to speak, rip the band-aid off.
  • Having just left MediaShift today, tomorrow will be the first time in more than three years (over 1100 days) that I will not be replying constantly to emails from editors and sources.
  • Mid-terms are coming up, but my preparation can take place entirely offline with the use of a very large notebook. Any paper writing and presentation creation can and should take place after reading all the material anyway. If anything, staying disconnected will let me get work done faster. 
  • Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) begins tonight and ends Thursday night. Shabbat begins only 24 hours after that on Friday night and ends Saturday night. Both are holidays that should be reserved for contemplation and relaxation. For the first time in a long time, I’ll be able to do just that.

It’s been years since the last time I’ve gone without Internet access for more than 24 hours, especially with my 3-year-old dependence on iPhone, which I only half-jokingly refer to as my third arm and an extension of my body.

I’m hoping this trip will give me the perspective to understand the place of technology in my life so that I may live life, offline and on, to its
fullest extent.

When I arrived, I realized just how little of a choice I had here. There was no Wi-Fi nor phone service of any kind. If I had had my iPhone or laptop, they would have been next to useless.

Nevertheless, even remaining away from keyboards and screens did wonders for me. I was definitely more present and able to get more reading done for classes (an unavoidable phenomenon known as midterms precluded me from leaving work at home).

I didn’t really miss technology, strangely enough. It was freeing to not be checking online every few minutes. I was able to push a lot of work-related (as well as less urgent) matters out of my mind.

I was (gasp!) relaxed. No stress, no anxiety, no impatience. Just being.

I’m hoping I can repeat this exercise every once a while once I get back Stateside and even while I’m here. I’ll be better for it.

***

Follow the rest of my adventure throughout Costa Rica here at IFSA-Butler’s blog, at my blog, on Twitter or even on Facebook.

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